The New York Times has a nice article on the White House’s push to develop a “rule book” to regulate drone strikes. Apparently, during the campaign the Obama White House was scrambling to develop concrete procedures that would regulate how and when a hypothetical Romney administration could use drones. The article quotes an unnamed White House official admitting “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands.” Once the election was over, however, such an attempt to institutionalize policies suddenly lost their sense of immediacy. The White House is still working on crafting a “rule book” but seem in no real rush to do so.
The overarching message from all of this seems to be: “there need to be clear standards and procedures in place; just not for us.” Rarely is liberal hypocrisy ever so blatant.
While it is reassuring that the Obama administration at least comprehends that their actions have consequences that will continue after them, they don’t seem willing to change their own behavior accordingly. The NYT article points out the very real possibility that other countries will follow suit in developing and using drones. The fact that the Obama administration sees no problem continuing to use drones that kill a startling number of civilians (including children) without first formulating any kind of institutional regulations for ordering drone strikes shows a contempt for legal procedure that borders on the tyrannical. The fact that the entire drone program remains shrouded in secrecy only adds to the dangerous precedent being set. Set aside what such strikes do to the public perception of America in Yemen and Pakistan; it is this disregard for legal procedure- in effect, disregard for the rule of law- that will come back to haunt America.
All of this reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies (and plays). In Fred Zinnemann’s film adaptation of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More gives one of the most eloquent defenses of constitutionalism and conservatism to ever grace the silver screen.
The Obama administration may think that killing terrorists and protecting America’s security is a worthy enough goal to justify working without specific institutional procedures. But when we begin to cut down the laws that stand between us and whatever Devil we are after, that same law will be utterly unable to protect us from the Devil, as well as ourselves.